By Edith McCauley
Artists’ Ensemble’s (AE) Jeeves Takes a Bow, Margaret Raether’s latest adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse’s memorable work that began in 1915 and 1916 with the introduction of the impeccable Jeeves and his employer, Bertie Wooster, brings the two to Manhattan in the 1920s. Bertie, as always, manages to find his life complicated by his friend, Binky, and only Jeeves is able to solve the seemingly unsurmountable problem.
Gary Wingert returns to portray “a peerless gentleman’s gentleman.” Always elegant and in complete control of every situation, he personifies our vision of the perfect English valet. David A. Gingerich is Bertie and recreates his role of the constantly confused English gentleman bent on avoiding marriage at all costs. Raether has found the two actors who have become what Wodehouse envisioned.
Jake Jones as Binky is a newcomer to AE. Having worked in the Chicago area and received his acting BFA from Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music, he is a welcome addition to the talented cast. Casiena Raether plays Miss Ruby LaRoy. Her nasal accent gives Ruby complete authenticity, and Genny Bonavia’s costumes and stunning red wig make her completely believable. Lydia Berger enters as a proper English lady determined to write of the seamy side of the city. She announces her engagement to Bertie, creating a storm of controversy. It is only after meeting Bootlegger Knuckles, played by John Timothy McFarland, and visiting several speakeasies that the proper lady is replaced by a “wild woman.”
Jon Sleger’s elegant set with doors leading to a balcony overlooking the city and furniture found only in the best apartments provides another addition to Director Richard Raether’s ability to stage this play so well. There are antic scenes where the two staircases are essential to the movement. At stage center is a grand piano, and Margaret Raether and Musical Director Tim Anderson have written a seemingly strange piece, “Gonna Lasso Me a Buckaroo,” that as the plot develops, becomes a grand finale. Wingert, a man of many talents, plays the accompaniment in another surprise development.
Saturday’s matinee audience was responsive and enthusiastic. Comments revealed their complete enjoyment; we all need a few more laughs. Playing through Sept. 23 at the Cheek Theatre on the Rockford College campus, this is a great beginning to AE’s ninth season. For ticket information, call (815) 904-2277 or go online to artistsensemble.org.
From the Sept. 12-18, 2012, issue